Field of [Film] Dreams
Filmmaker Andy Brodie has a dream for Iowa City, a world class independent cinema…after nearly a decade of hard work, his dream is coming true.
The Englert Theatre was abuzz with the palpable energy that can only come before a live performance. Hundreds of people were lined up to buy their tickets at the last minute, while inside the chatter of the patrons created a steady hum and the musicians readied for the show.
Andy Brodie knew this was the moment to share his vision with the world. He stepped on stage, and vocalized his dream for an art cinema in downtown Iowa City to the 600 music and movie lovers who had gathered for a screening of the classic silent film “Metropolis,” backed by the renowned Alloy Orchestra.
It was a dream that Brodie had been cultivating for nearly a decade, and a dream he had all but given up on a few years before. And although FilmScene has come a long way since that September 2011 announcement, Brodie knows there is still a lot of work to do before his vision is fully realized.
“There’s very rarely a true overnight-anything,” he said.
Growing up in central Iowa in the 80s, Brodie’s idea of the movies was limited to action-packed Hollywood blockbusters and shopping mall multiplexes. It wasn’t until he started working at a newspaper in high school that a coworker introduced him to independent films.
“I had enjoyed going to the movies like anyone else, but not in a very critical way,” he said. “I realized there was this whole other world of film as an art that I hadn’t been exposed to.”
Brodie started driving from Ames to Iowa City on the weekends to see unique movies at the Bijou Cinema, a student-run independent theatre on the University of Iowa campus. He eventually moved to Iowa City to enroll in the film studies program, and he volunteered as an usher at the Bijou so he could watch the films over and over. After spending so many hours there, he was invited to join the board of directors, and then to become the cinema’s programming director.
Although the Bijou was Brodie’s home away from home during those years (he even met his wife there), he knew it couldn’t serve the community in the way he imagined. A true “film scene” in Iowa City needed a bigger and better venue, an independent organization with its own fundraising and governance, and most importantly, it needed to be downtown.
“Iowa City is a place where the arts matter, they’re important, and downtown is its cultural hub. We have spaces for music, we have spaces for literature, we have spaces for live theatre, but we do not have a dedicated home for film, and that’s a big gap in our arts circle.”
When the Campus 3 theatre closed its doors in the Old Capitol Town Center in 2007, Brodie saw an opportunity to make his dream a reality. He pitched an idea to University officials that would use the space as an art cinema on nights and weekends and extra classroom space during the day.
However, even though the University was purchasing space in the Town Center, officials were uninterested in investing in Brodie’s art cinema concept. When the floods of 2008 heavily damaging the arts campus, the University further shifted its arts priorities, and Brodie felt his dream had come to a dead end.
“I thought, ‘What can I do? I tried, I did my part at Campus 3 and the Bijou, and it didn’t work.’”
After the Campus 3 deal fell apart, Brodie turned his focus back to his own independent filmmaking. He spent his time traveling the country, making films and working at film festivals.
However, his dream for Iowa City was never completely forgotten.
“I was unhappy that I was traveling and seeing all these cool venues and festivals, and coming home, and we didn’t have that here,” he said.
Attending the True/False Film Fest in Columbia, Mo. reignited his vision for Iowa City. Unlike Telluride, the large, resort-like festival in Colorado that Brodie loves and has worked at for nearly a decade, True/False is hosted by a small nonprofit arts cinema in Columbia.
“To see it work so well in another Midwestern college town was very inspirational,” he said.
Brodie found a fellow film-lover and business partner after working with Andrew Sherburne to revive Little Village magazine, an alternative arts and culture magazine that had closed briefly after the floods. In September 2011, the two officially founded FilmScene, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to building an independent theater downtown.
With the Campus 3 space long gone and no large warehouses available downtown, the partners knew a fully-realized FilmScene, with multiple theatres, a media education center and a café lounge, would depend on new construction.
After talking with several developers, they started collaborating with Marc Moen on his plans for The Chauncey, a proposed $53 million, 20-story mixed-use high rise. The proposal includes office space, a small hotel and 12 floors of residential units on the upper floors, and entertainment on the lower floors including the two FilmScene theatres, two bowling alleys and gallery spaces for visual arts.
The Chauncey went on to become one of five proposals to compete before the Iowa City city council for the empty land at the corner of College and Gilbert streets. Each of the other proposals included plans for an expanded New Pioneer Food Co-op grocery store—a beloved local institution—and at times, the debate was heated.
“I had a lot of sleepless nights,” Brodie said. “I felt like we were pouring ourselves into doing this really positive thing that needs to happen, and to have any controversy and negativity around it was kind of heartbreaking in a way. It took a lot to not just want to give up.”
Although the Chauncey project was eventually chosen, it will likely be 3-5 years before the building can open its doors. In the meantime, Moen found a smaller home for FilmScene in a downtown commercial building. Dubbed Scene 1, the space at 118 E. College St (which formerly held Vito’s Bar) will have an 85-seat theatre, concessions, a rooftop patio and a few computers for film classes.
While it’s a small fraction of what the final FilmScene will be, standing in that space, Brodie can finally see where the bright lights of a silver screen will return to downtown Iowa City.
“In the last two years we’ve founded a nonprofit and built it from scratch, and developed and set into motion plans for not one, but two theatres,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like, ‘gosh, what have we accomplished, there’s so much to still do, but I have to step back and remember we’ve accomplished a lot, and we’re on the verge of a really cool thing.”
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Profile written by Sarah Binder, a writer and editor specializing in business journalism, a Corridor transplant, an art lover and a wannabe foodie. Find her on Twitter @sarahebinder.
Portrait photographs by Andy Stoll, a Corridor-based social entrepreneur and media producer, co-founder of Seed Here Studio and the creative director for The Creative Corridor Project. Follow Andy on Twitter @andystoll or learn more at andystoll.net.
Architectural renderings provided by FilmScene.
Learn more about FilmScene and Scene 1 (opening this fall) and FilmScene at The Chauncey (projected opening 2015). And follow FilmScene on Facebook and Twitter.
Meet FilmScene Co-Fouder/filmmaker/children’s book author Andrew Sherburne in The Press-Citizen
See more renderings by Rohrbach Associates P.C. Architects of the future home of FilmScene, the proposed Chauncey Building.